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1 chapter 1 Lessons of the Prune Orchard You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.­ —James A. Froude, English historian (1818–1894) Watching Bob Straub striding through the mud in his work boots on his farm in the West Salem hills in Oregon, you had no clue that he began his years as a city boy. Pounding in fence posts, cutting firewood with his chainsaw, or planting trees on his land further west, in Willamina, were Bob’s meditations, reflecting a work ethic and a love of the outdoors he learned from his parents and carried as a personal touchstone throughout his life. Bob Straub chose to see himself as a simple man of the soil, but the maze of fascinating contradictions that make up any person’s life seem particularly complex in his case. Growing up the youngest in a rough-andtumble household of competitive, prankster brothers, a father who was “a disciplinarian,” who “insist[ed] on a high level of performance,” and a loving, “very religious … but tolerant” mother,1 Straub’s upbringing was, on its surface, not atypical for the son of a self-made professional in the early part of the 1900s. But the hurts he suffered growing up, both physically and emotionally, and how he succeeded in overcoming them are a compelling story made even more so by his becoming an important public figure. Given Straub’s rural predilections, it is somewhat ironic that he was born and spent his first nine years in the civilized, “citified” household of an eminent San Francisco lawyer. When their youngest son, Robert William, was born on May 6, 1920, Thomas and Mary Straub and their family lived in a pleasant row house on the corner of 11th Avenue and Anza Street, in the Richmond District. Thomas Straub, a stern father and respected attorney, represented Pacific Gas & Electric, a rapidly growing Northern California utility company, eventually serving as their chief counsel. Mary Tulley Straub sustained home and hearth for Thomas and their five children with a flourish and a kind heart. The infant Bob already had three brothers: Thomas, Jr., referred to as “Tom” or “TJ” to distinguish him from his father, age nine, Frank, age six, and Jim, age two, and, a sister—the apple of her father’s 2 Standing at the Water’s Edge eye—Jean, age four. Young Jean promptly named him “Bib,” a childish mispronunciation that stuck with him as his friendly nickname within the family for the rest of his life. It was a close-knit family and the years in San Francisco were good, Jean recalled: “My earliest memories in childhood were of bicycling and skating with my brothers on the hilly San Francisco streets. We used to sail down the hills through intersections and we almost always took our dog Jack,” an energetic and friendly old-style cocker spaniel with a curly brown coat and a docked tail. “We enjoyed the city—going to the zoo, swimming in an enormous pool. Every Saturday our parents would take us to Luca’s, an Italian restaurant. It had wonderful Italian pasta and sourdough French bread. I spent a lot of time with my little brothers Jim and Bob.”2 But life wasn’t always idyllic for the kids. A disturbing incident when Bob was around four years old, and an older brother’s reaction to it, illustrates the tenacity of the family character. One day Jean and Jim, eight and six at the time, with little “Bib” tagging along, were out roaming with Jack and came to the Fleischmann pool, a huge indoor public saltwater pool perched on a cliff over the Pacific, at the end of Golden Gate Park, about a mile and a half from home. As Jean remembers it, “We wanted to go in, but we couldn’t bring our dog. A man, who was very nice, said, ‘I’ll keep your dog for you, kiddies. You go in and have fun.’ So we left Jack with the man while we went inside to look around. When we came back out, the man was gone. He stole our dog.”3 Thomas Straub Lessons of the Prune Orchard 3 The children were crushed. But older brother Frank just couldn’t accept that Jack was gone. He spent every afternoon and all day on weekends on his bike combing the city looking for the dog. Frank continued this personal mission for several months. One Saturday...


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